1.4

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Seattle, Washington, USA – Sunday, the 27th of May, 2012. 11:58 PM.
 
 
After taking off her headpiece to get a better view of the partially constructed husk of a mall, Chris strained her eyes against the darkness of the overcast night. She had to get in there, but the only option was to enter through a gaping hole where the construction of the fourth floor’s facade had not yet been completed. Four stories up, without any footholds for climbing.

Her danger sense had led her here after hours of aimless wandering in the White Center area. The danger feedback she’d received had been intense enough to suggest that an entire group of people was in trouble. It felt like there were ten or so of them, but she couldn’t be sure.

She had already checked for other ways in, but she hadn’t been able to find any. The main entrance was guarded by men with barely concealed guns—probably put there by whoever was causing her danger sense to flare—and she didn’t want to put them on alert. Access to the underground was blocked by industrial garage doors reinforced with steel bars.

Her senses flared again

irritation, toying with the idea of ending this farce

as she stood, pondering the building’s exterior.

Everything she knew about the target location came from the people who’d triggered her danger sense. She couldn’t exactly see the place through their eyes, but she’d received vision flashes that painted a mental picture of a large underground car park. The information she’d gathered that way had been sparse—dim, flickering lights punctuated the darkness, revealing a huge empty space filled with nothing except rows upon rows of vacant parking spaces. Beyond the dim illumination, darkness extended in all directions.

So even though she had to get down to the underground parking garage, the only way to do that was to first get four stories up. She thought about rigging up some sort of ladder out of wooden construction palettes, but soon dismissed the idea.

Her thoughts gave way to another intense bout of physical intuition, the third in half an hour. She dropped her headpiece, and almost fell to her knees in pain as she once again sensed the kind of bodily threat the people inside were facing. She felt her flesh being pierced by a hail of phantom bullets, scorched by broiling flames, and torn into pieces by too many kinds of weaponry to identify through the pain. Whatever it was that threatened so much agony and ruin, her stomach lurched at the sheer destructive potential of it.

Her danger sense deactivated after a few seconds, and the painful barrage mercifully stopped. She sucked in a breath and steadied herself against the mall’s facade. She remained propped in place until her mind cleared and her new senses stopped insisting on forcing the experience of all those potential deaths on her.

At least, not until the next time her danger sense flared.

Whoever thought about pulling the trigger changes their mind every other minute. That was a good thing because it meant she wasn’t already too late to stop them.

Once she felt more or less herself again, Chris peeled off the rest of her costume and pushed the bundled-up gear beneath an overturned wheelbarrow. With the streets as deserted as they were, there wasn’t any point in handicapping her movements with bulky layers of fake fur.

She could tell that this was going to be something big, and, for a moment, she was overcome with the feeling that she was in way over her head. When she’d decided to go off on her own, she’d expected common thugs or gang wars at most, not something where the threat level almost made her puke. Maybe it would have been wise to wait for the Covenant to deal with this one. They had the experience to deal with this kind of thing, but since they hadn’t shown up yet, they most likely didn’t know.

Chris began looking around the deserted construction zone, devoid of all confidence and unsure of what to do next. Then her eyes landed on one of the construction cranes. Its graceful silhouette stood poised against the overcast night sky like a heron ready to dive for the kill. Suspended from its boom was an enormous wrecking ball just waiting to pass sentence on anything that stood in its way. But what caught Chris’s eye was the logo of the contracting company emblazoned on the side of the machine. Beside the words Imperial Construction, Ltd. was a metallic gray coat of arms.

The memory of Helen’s pendant flashed through Chris’s mind as she felt her gut wrench with a different sort of pain, a pain that cut deeper than any phantom bullets or flames or blades ever could. If she didn’t take this opportunity to do something positive and help some people, then she might never get another chance to prove to the world—and to herself—that she wasn’t a monster.

Emboldened, Chris turned her attention back to the four stories of cement in front of her. If she was going to have even a chance of helping anybody, she had to make it up to that fourth-floor opening first.

Focus, she told herself, pressing her knuckles to her temples. Every problem has a solution. Think about the solution.

A gust of cool nighttime air hit her so she pulled up the hood of her trusty hoodie. Too bad it wouldn’t help her climb three floors of cement. Why didn’t I get the superpower that lets you scale walls, like in those Chinese Wuxia movies? Chris thought dryly.

And then an idea struck her. Maybe she had.

With the realization that she had nothing left to lose, Chris faced the wall head-on and ran directly at it with maximum speed. Around her, reality slowed down to a crawl. As her body tingled with the boundless energy that charged within her, a rush of adrenaline surged through her. It felt awesome.

Her years of parkour experience had blessed her with exceptional body awareness and balance. In the elongated seconds that passed, her horizontal charge was easily converted into a vertical one. Stunned, she realized that running up the wall was ridiculously easy.

She didn’t have the time to feel smug about it, though. She didn’t know how long she had before her danger sense would flare again, and she didn’t want to be incapacitated by phantom pains when she was in a vulnerable position. She had to get down into the underground car park because there wasn’t any way of telling how much time those people had left.

A quick scan of the unfinished mall’s fourth floor didn’t reveal any immediate threats. The space was cleaner than the construction zone’s exterior surroundings had been. It was dusty, but free of building debris. A shadowy framework of steel support beams stood out against the tall windows that interrupted the completed walls on three sides. Pale streaks of moonlight revealed a gaping opening cut into the middle of the vast cement floor. The heavy wire cables running up through it suggested that it would likely be turned into an elevator at some point. A metal spiral of temporary stairs, installed next to the empty elevator shaft, descended to the lower floors.

If I’m fast enough, nobody should see or hear a thing.

Chris rushed down the circular stairway at maximum speed. She could make out some distant voices on the main floor, but the words were too distorted by the time-slowing effect for Chris to make out what the speakers were saying. A quick glance revealed a group of armed men by the main entrance and none of them were paying any attention to the stairs.

In what must have been only a second, Chris reached the ground level of the underground parking. The first thing she noted from the stairwell doorway was that the space was illuminated. The fact that someone had bothered to turn on the provisional lighting in the first place was a dead giveaway that she was on the right track. A few dim, flickering light bulbs illuminated a familiar scene: rows upon rows of vacant parking spaces surrounded by darkness.

Chris quickly took stock. The underground parking lot was quite large, a huge circle of concrete with a floor-to-ceiling hub of concrete in the middle where the elevator shaft terminated. All around the concrete cavity, a skeleton of metal beams supported the ceiling above the dirty concrete floor. She couldn’t see anyone from the doorway, but she recognized the place from her vision flashes.

Then a man’s voice drifted in from somewhere on the other side of the concrete elevator shaft.

“Ah. The time is upon us, then. I do beseech ye to pay attention to this humble demonstration of his marvelous work.”

The antiquated speech and accent should have sounded fake, but he managed to pull it off with a casual ease. Chris cocked her head and listened for more.

The ground rumbled, followed by a distant screech of machinery that echoed off the garage’s concrete walls. Chris heard a shift of gears, followed by the noise of parts clicking into place. The sound of shoes scraping over pavement followed as several people stirred in response.

The memory of the destructive potential she’d sensed earlier was enough to make Chris’s stomach lurch again.

“Holy shit, motherfucker!” The words came from the same direction, but were shouted by a different man. This man’s accent was pure working class. “Don’t point that thing at us!”

Chris held her breath as she slipped through the doorway at a slow human pace. Her danger sense flared as she approached the concrete cavity surrounding the empty elevator shaft. With each step, the sound of grinding machinery neared, but she forced herself to move slowly because she couldn’t be sure that there weren’t more guards positioned nearby. The last thing she needed was for someone to start shooting.

Chris hesitated for a second, then slowly rounded the concrete structure. No turning back now.

There was more angry shouting, but the rattle of grinding machinery drowned out the voices. The ground beneath her feet rumbled, and then the noise faded away. Chris came to a halt on high alert. In an instant the vast space was silent except for a persistent mechanical hum that filled the stale air.

The antiquated voice broke the stillness. “We art in agreement, then? Surely you, my cunning friend, need no reminder of this unmistakable truth.” The speaker’s voice was full of derision. Chris suspected that his Shakespeare act was just a guise intended to mock whoever it was he was talking to.

Chris moved to one of the massive metal ceiling supports at maximum speed and crouched low behind the pillar, using it for cover. It was more than a foot in diameter, making it a perfect place from which to get a look at the action while remaining unseen. From her first glance, she could see two groups of men facing off in the open space between rows of vacant parking spaces.

The leader of the group closest to her position was so strangely dressed that Chris couldn’t help but to focus her attention on him first. A ceiling lamp that dangled ten feet above him illuminated an outdated choice of clothing that might have been amusing under different circumstances.

The man combined an old-fashioned dark blue business suit with a frilly white button-down shirt, a black satin top hat, and a silken necktie with ends that stuck out like wings. In his hand was a silver-tipped cane. A silver-hued Victorian-style mask, embellished by entwining vine ornaments, covered the upper half of his face. The thin-lipped mouth beneath it was curled into a sardonic smile. If it wasn’t for the catlike stance and long brown hair, flowing around his shoulders, Chris might have assumed he was a much older man. Only old men used walking canes, right? Still, based on his fashion sense, she guessed that the archaic speech patterns belonged to him.

This character was so strange that Chris almost failed to notice the four goons in standard-issue business suits who stood flanking him, two on each side. In fact, they could have been four brothers— they were all the exact same size and body shape. As Chris eyed them from her vantage point, she noticed they didn’t make the slightest sound or movement.

She turned her head just far enough to bring the opposing group into view. This gang, which stood facing the dandy and his hired suits at a distance of about twenty feet, was made up of a dozen or so ordinary-looking thugs. They looked liketype who would make petty trouble at the local juke joint and start brawls over someone’s girlfriend’s sister.

Except that most of them carried guns. Big ones.

A brawny, heavily tattooed man in his prime appeared to spearhead the group. He had the rigid posture of someone trying too hard to appear calm and composed, but Chris saw that his fingers were restless on the grip of his machine gun. His eyes kept drifting up to the ceiling.

She followed his line of vision, then gasped when she identified the source of the persistent humming sound. It was coming from an indescribable machine, towering a good ten feet over the well-dressed bodyguards.

That’s one big freaking robot.

The android had more or less a humanoid body shape, its upper extremities squat and condensed. What Chris had mistaken for support pillars were the robot’s legs, long enough that it had to hunch over to avoid contact with the ceiling. Squinting, Chris saw that each of its black-plated limbs had been equipped with a number of weapons of various types and size, like some sort of massive and horrifying Swiss army knife.

It was kind of cliché, really. As if the creator had studied a comic book villain’s work and emulated it with the addition of even more guns—and of several three-foot razor blades attached to every limb.

Oh, crap.

Chris’s stomach tightened into a small knot. It wasn’t hard to guess at the source of all that destructive potential she’d sensed, but she had no idea how she could possibly stop something like this if it went into terminator mode. Compared to this, her force fields weren’t so impressive.

Chris took this all in within mere seconds of when the dandy delivered his poorly disguised threat on behalf of his friend, whoever that was.

“No, we ain’t in agreement,” mocked the lead street thug, giving his foppish counterpart a menacing look. “You’re dodgin’ my questions like a rabbit on dope. How long we gotta wait before shit starts going down? The police and those goddamn heroes haven’t loosened up the game one bit, and there ain’t much reason to assume that’s gonna change. Your toy monster’s just gonna collect dust if shit don’t go down soon, man. But if you wanna have us on standby to cover your ass, then you gotta pay us for the time we spend waitin’ around while you get your shit in order. And so far, you still ain’t paid us dick.”

So these guys are working together on something? Chris realized, holding her breath. What the hell are they up to?

The oddly dressed man exhaled a long dramatic sigh. “We should not falsely proclaim this marvel to be my work,” he corrected with an overly patient tone. “Do not forget that Data is the genius who created it. I am a mere diplomat.”

Chris almost gasped. Data was supposedly the most powerful Technician in the world. His inventions had garnered a lot of attention until he’d suddenly disappeared about a year ago.

“I don’t give a fuck who created it,” the lead thug seethed. “I just wanna know when we’re gonna get our money.”

The dandy made a tsk-tsk sound with his mouth. “Patience, my greedy friend. I seem to recall informing you that a series of events have been set into motion to change the board. Alas, I am afraid I cannot share specifics.” He smiled, showing a hint of white teeth. “But if you feel you cannot wait, then perhaps it would be best if I spoke to your rivals instead.”

“Fuck that,” said the lead thug, visibly shaking in anger.

“Feareth not the change,” the dandy advised patronizingly, using more Shakespearean language again. “Unless, of course, thou knoweth too much for thy own good.”

Although he looked like he was enjoying himself immensely, the man’s last few words contained enough threat potential to trigger Chris’s danger sense. Without warning, the pain that was about to be felt by these people shot through her own body. Even though the projected sensation was marginally weaker than the real deal, she still doubled over with a grunt.

Someone heard.

“Pray, pardon me, methinks we have a visitor.”

Chris’s mind cleared instantly, the phantom pain fading. Behind the pillar, her body tensed as it primed to act at any moment. But there were no footsteps—no indication of anyone moving towards her. She pressed the back of a hand to her mouth and froze, hoping the dandy’s comment concerned someone else.

“You fuckin’ kidding me? I got guards at the entrance.”

“So someone outsmarted your guards? Imagine that,” the dandy drawled sarcastically. Then his voice rose as he called out into the car park, “Hello? Pray tell, stranger, where are you hiding?” His words took on a playful baritone with some merry eagerness mixed in. Overall, it sounded pretty darn creepy. “Don’t worry, I shall find you soon enough.”

Chris waited a few more seconds, hoping against all odds that he was responding to a sound that he’d heard elsewhere in the parking garage. She had to check. She tilted her head slightly to the side , extending her neck just far enough to get a glimpse into the parking lot, but, the instant she directed her gaze beyond the pillar, her eyes met the dandy’s cold stare.

She froze, unable to avert her eyes. She had little doubt that she was facing a villain here. That guy had cheated. He shouldn’t have been able to spot her so easily, at least not with the angle that separated them. No, he had something else in his arsenal beyond normal human capabilities. Or maybe it was something in that monster robot’s arsenal. Some kind of scanner or something.

As the dandified villain considered her over fingers laced together beneath his chin, the grip of his cane sticking out from the crook of an arm, an engrossing smile crept across his roguish face.

The heavily tattooed gang leader didn’t look so amused when he caught sight of her, though. His features twisted in a way that left little doubt about how little he appreciated her interference. He raised the barrel of his machine gun right at Chris’s face.

Chris reacted to the pointed gun by reflexively creating an invisible force field around herself. Here’s hoping, she thought. Then she raised her hands to show that they were empty.

“Well, well. How shall we proceed?” the villain asked her in a smooth tone. He cocked his head, maintaining scrutinizing eye contact that betrayed too much interest for her liking.

Chris took a quick tally of her options. Disabling that robotic thing before she ran for her life came up as her best bet. Too bad she lacked any ideas as to how to pull that off.

“I’ll get rid of her for you,” the street thug offered, his semi-automatic weapon still aimed at her face.

“I think not,” the villain rebuffed. “I have a different idea entirely.

At that moment, the oversized robot realigned its mechanical guts with a series of clicks. None of its visible parts budged, leaving Chris unsure of where to direct her attention.

The instant she felt her danger sense flare again, Chris discarded her half-baked plan in favor of acting on instinct. Summoning all her willpower to shut out the mental impact of thirteen men ripped to pieces by gunfire, she raced for the group at max speed.

A split second later, she had positioned herself in front of the street gang while pushing her personal force field , increasing the size of the energy bubble around herself in order to surround a few of the thugs. She also managed to fling extra shields onto some of the men who were on the outer edges of the group, but she didn’t have enough time to cover them all.

Before the street gang had time to process her presence, the robot opened fire with a deafening roar. The sound of a dozen machine guns and small artillery fire resounded off the walls, assaulting the eardrums of anyone nearby. A shift in energy informed Chris that the force fields were collapsing. In moments, every single one of them except for her own had crumbled beneath the assault. The unprotected thugs didn’t have time to raise their weapons to return fire before they were cut to pieces.

Chris was feeling so much phantom agony that she could barely process anything else. This time, unlike the car accident, the pain wasn’t dulled by the force field surrounding her. She sagged to her knees, trying her hardest not to throw up.

Meanwhile, the deafening roar of firing guns let her know that the gang members who were still standing were attempting to return fire. She felt the bullets which collided with her force field stop in midair, only to drop uselessly to the ground.

The men started running. Chris ground her teeth in an attempt to focus and restore their force fields. She was on her knees, hands pushing hard against the ground.

Then more noise came from the robot’s direction, a series of singular explosions rather than a hail of bullets. This time, the impact wasn’t strong enough for the force fields to collapse, and the sound of retreating footsteps didn’t stop. Chris sensed the impact of every single bullet and the kinetic energy that carried it. Each was powerful in its own right, but collectively weaker than the previous barrage.

I couldn’t protect all of them, Chris realized, though she didn’t understand why. The confusion she felt was similar to the emotional turmoil she experienced after the car crash. All she knew was that some people had died—and she didn’t have a clue as to why her power decided to selectively keep others alive.

The sound of receding footsteps continued until it grew too distant to hear. They were safe.

The robotic weaponry finally lapsed into silence, and Chris felt herself collapse. She heard the sound of a graceful footfall approach before it stopped beside her sprawled-out form. She was still collecting her senses, unable to do anything but give a pained groan.

“Fascinating.” The way the word was said sounded something like admiration.

Chris shifted with some effort, but she still couldn’t raise her head. Her field of vision was limited to the sea of red and fleshy bits that covered the pavement around her. She closed her eyes. It was like déjà vu from yesterday.

It didn’t matter that the people she’d let down this time had been little more than hired goons willing to work for whatever villain threw them a bone. The simple fact was that she had failed to protect them. And now they were dead, too.

After spending a moment composing herself, Chris managed to open her eyelids. She met the villain’s gaze as he peered at her through the eyeholes of his half mask.

“Powerful,” was all he said. He watched her struggle to stand up with an irritating air of patience, his mouth twisting into a knowing grin. “Pleasure to meet you,” he drawled when she had finally made it to her feet. He extended a hand, which Chris ignored. Seemingly unoffended, he let it drop to his side. “Perhaps I should be irritated at your intrusion, but making your acquaintance is ample compensation.”

He straightened his top hat. The small motion sent a ripple of transformation down the entire length of his body, changing his guise from top to bottom in the blink of an eye. The frilly shirt and necktie disappeared while the navy suit gained a modern design, complete with a crisp dress shirt and gray tie, like something out of a Hugo Boss ad. The same silver Victorian masquerade mask still covered the upper half of his face, and his long brown hair was suddenly bound back into a sleek ponytail. Even the villain’s body shape shifted, from gangly and catlike to well-proportioned and muscular. The top hat and mask were the only items that stayed the same.

Something about the shape of his mouth and jaw—the chiseled features visible beyond the rim of the mask—bothered Chris. But she was distracted before she could figure out why.

The rhythm of the bipedal robot’s hum had changed. Chris turned her head to see that its appearance had transformed as much as the villain’s. The artificial extensions were gone, replaced by an elegant, minimalist design. It featured smooth transitions between its limbs and smaller, less obtrusive bits of weaponry.

What the hell? Is he putting on a personal show for me?

Chris looked over the villain’s shoulder at his four bodyguards. They hadn’t changed. In fact, they did nothing at all. Not even blink. Were they even real?

“You are Christina, correct?” the villain said, his voice still overly gallant.

Surprised, Chris gave him a blank stare and pushed herself up from the ground. “You saw me on TV, didn’t you?”

He ignored her question, and checked his silver wristwatch with a dramatic flourish. “I would love to have a friendly chat, but, alas, the men you allowed to escape will make a lot of noise. And I have no intention of exchanging pleasantries with the likes of Radiant and Samael.”

Neither do I, Chris agreed silently. But she couldn’t just let the villain walk away, could she? A series of scenarios started running through her head. Should she try to seize him for the Covenant to collect later? Lacking anything to tie him up with, even if she could, she quickly dismissed that idea. Besides, the robot clearly posed the biggest threat. She had to find a way to destroy it.

Or maybe she should just run for her life before the murderous android turned its attention on her?

The villain’s voice interrupted her thoughts. “You are not seeking employment by chance?”

Chris gave him an incredulous look. “What, with you?” she asked, not bothering to feign interest.

He shrugged. “I just thought I should venture to ask. The newly transitioned often yearn for a more meaningful existence. Or so we’ve found, at least.” He gave her a hopeful look.

We? As she made a mental note of the villain’s word choice, something else clicked. His looks. His jaw … his features … his ponytail. The villain had made himself look like Ryan. He must have changed his appearance in order to influence her in some way—maybe so that she would join him in whatever villainous scheme the thugs had been about to get involved in. The realization annoyed her.

“If your intention is to bait me with his looks, it’s not working.”

“Me? Never!” the villain exclaimed in mock dismay. “Now, my dear, I should be off. Shall I repeat my invitation before I take my leave?”

“To join you and your toy that’s going to collect dust?” Chris asked, repeating the gang leader’s words.

He tsk-tsked her. “That fine piece of machinery is no toy, my dear. It is a Golem—a most remarkable piece of engineering. You would be privileged to work with it.”

“I don’t think so, mister,” she said.

“You may call me Gentleman,” he replied with a low bow. “Who knows? You may change your mind before long and seek me out.”

“I won’t.”

“Ah, another do-gooder, are you? A shame, truly.” There was disappointment in his voice. “Alas, our time is up.”

Then he was simply gone, the four bodyguards flickering out of existence along with him. Chris racked her brains to make sense of Gentleman’s abrupt disappearance. Was it teleportation? As far as she knew, only the Australian rogue named Traveler had that kind of power set.

Then again, she’d never even heard of a villain named Gentleman.

The Golem interrupted her musings by stirring into action. It released a continuous laser beam from a bazooka-sized extremity on its shoulder and aimed up. It had almost finished cutting a circular hole through the ceiling by the time Chris realized that it was trying to break through the concrete into the upper level.

She wasn’t sure why the robot wasn’t going after her, but she guessed that Gentleman’s strange fascination with her might have something to do with it.

“Fuck you, Gentleman,” she muttered. “And fuck your little toy, too.”

Chris projected a force field onto the Golem’s sleek metallic shoulder to interrupt the laser, but it was too late. The robot punched a fist the size of a washing machine through the two-foot thick solid concrete ceiling which separated the parking garage from the first-floor level.

Where the hell is it planning to go? Chris wondered. Intuitively, she created a larger force field to block the machine’s advance through the ceiling. The Golem made an effort to push through, to no avail.

With barely a pause, the robot extended its extremities to their full length and wildly pounded away at the ceiling, landing many hits just beyond the edges of Chris’s force field. Try as she might, she couldn’t expand the barrier to cover the robot’s reach. More chunks of concrete crashed onto the floor around her.

It’s trying to get to street level. It wasn’t hard to imagine the havoc that the Golem could unleash on the neighborhood. Fear gripped at Chris’s throat.

She needed less than a second to regroup. She turned on her heel and dashed at max speed up the temporary metal stairway to the ground-floor level—although she wasn’t quite sure what she’d do when she got there.

When she reached the ground floor, she was glad to see that no one else had stayed behind. Even the guards were gone. If she wasn’t capable of stopping the Golem, at least she would be the only one who got killed.

At that moment the Golem heaved its upper body through the ground level’s crumbling cement floor. Chris turned her attention to creating several force fields along the edges of the crater from where it emerged. The energy fields kept the robot’s extremities from latching onto anything solid. The thing lost its balance, and was slowly pulled back down by its own weight.

The Golem screeched, its massive limbs tearing the floor apart as it struggled unsuccessfully to get a handhold. By the time the Golem had finally slipped onto the car park pavement below, it had doubled the size of the crater in the ground level floor.

Shit. I’ll have to go back down, Chris thought. But just as she was about to descend the metal staircase, the robot leapt up through the crater. The kinetic energy of its momentum shattered the glass windows all around them as it blew the mall’s entire front facade into the street.

Chris surrounded herself in a force field as thousands of shards of broken glass and crumbling concrete rained down around her. The deafening noise was amplified when the Golem unleashed a steady stream of bullets in all directions. The corresponding weapons weren’t even visible.

The Golem advanced towards the gaping front wall, obviously intending to continue its rampage in the streets beyond. There was no way Chris could let that happen, especially considering that it might have been her intervention that had led to this. If she hadn’t interrupted the confrontation in the parking garage, then the Golem might be sleeping the night away in passive standby.

Chris dashed through the destroyed mall’s front facade at max speed to jump in front of the lumbering machine. When she reached the metal chain link fence that surrounded the construction zone, she whirled around and erected a force field in front of the Golem’s lead leg as it trudged ahead. The leg collided with the energy shield, causing the robotic giant to trip and lurch forward.

Its body awareness was disturbingly humanlike. As it shifted backwards to steady itself, Chris quickly created another pair of force fields behind it. Its legs got caught on the rear obstructions, causing it to topple over. The ground rumbled with the impact.

Taking advantage of the moment, Chris scanned the area for anything large and heavy. A couple of cars were parked nearby. She gritted her teeth and clenched a fist, punching down into the ground to channel all of her willpower into the mental push.

The energy blossomed forcefully underneath the nearest car, heaving the vehicle up off the ground and sending it flying through the air a short distance. The car crashed into the chain link fence and crushed a good portion of it. But it wasn’t hurled far enough to crush the Golem.

It did get the robot’s notice, however. While the Golem had paid little attention to Chris before now, it seemed to be irritated enough to change its tactics. As it turned to face her, pieces of invisible machinery began to shift and click.

Chris put up a force field around herself and braced for an onslaught. She had no idea if her energy shields were any match against laser beams or whatever else was in the robot’s arsenal. The Golem didn’t shoot, however. It paused for a moment, then realigned itself towards the five-story apartment building across the road.

It must be aware of the force field, Chris realized. She had no choice but to throw caution to the wind. She lowered the energy shield, leaving herself completely exposed, and hoped for the best. Here goes nothing. A second later, the Golem’s attention shifted back to her.

“Give me all you’ve got!” Chris screamed, extending her two middle fingers.

Some flash of thought at the back of her mind briefly wondered whether that had been a good idea. Her danger sense triggered

            wave of exploding heat, burned flesh

but still she didn’t reestablish a force field around herself. She had to get the Golem to shoot directly at her.

She dug her nails into her arms to distract her body from the phantom pain she knew was coming. Just before her danger sense feedback reached a painful level, she took a step back. The kind of step that slowed reality, giving her the additional half second she needed to encase all of the Golem’s upper body in an energy bubble.

The android discharged its built-up energy at Chris and blew itself up instead.

The explosion ended the phantom assault on her senses, but brought on a new kind of real pain. She collapsed onto the ground and covered the sides of her head with her forearms. Her eardrums reverberated with the impact of the explosion, but the sound was distant and detached.

I won, Chris thought, the realization slowly settling within her mind. Seattle is safe. She rolled over onto her back to catch her breath.

Something was moving in the night sky above her. Chris struggled to get a clearer view of it. She could just make out a suspended humanoid shape bathed in silver-gray moonlight as it hovered by the moon. The scene was reminiscent of the night before, when Radiant had appeared above her on the beach, but it was clear this was not the same figure. Evanescent ribbons flowed out from behind the form on a current of air that defied physics and logic, as if stirred by some sort of outer-dimensional force.

The figure descended to earth, and Chris was taken by surprise when the Golem blew up again, in an explosion that was even larger than the last. The entire night sky was momentarily lit up by the blast as burning bits of the robot were hurled in all directions. The smallest pieces were still drifting through the darkness several seconds after the explosion like fireflies.

The figure stepped closer. Chris recognized the man’s mask at once: a delicate gray Venetian mask, like what the Phantom of the Opera would wear, with silver rims around the eyeholes. Small adornments in the shape of angel wings framed the concealed face.

“Samael?” she whispered.

The figure nodded, but Chris realized a second too late that it wasn’t directed at her.

A loud buzz cut through the air, and then a sharp pain entirely too real shot through her body.

Then there was nothing but all-consuming darkness.
 

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11 thoughts on “1.4

  1. This was a challenging chapter. I probably spent close to 40 hours on it, most of those were invested in editing. The first draft was over 5K words, but my test reviewers didn’t like the previous version’s first part with 1K words of tracking down the location.

    I’ve been looking forward to uploading the end result, though. Any ideas on what happened at the ending – or more importantly, why?

    The next chapter will be the last one for the Mascot arc. Afterwards, we’re switching to a new POV character.

    • Doesn’t it just figure. Have a good fight! Kinda terrifying and all, but you win, and in a clever way! Then the good guys come and knock you out, presumably for being far more clever and pro-active than is typical and/or tolerated of the independent players. On the plus side, either Chris is in no danger, or the danger is far enough from now in time that she can’t detect it.

  2. It’s a great chapter, although the cliffhanger if the end feels a bit flat to me. We don’t know enough about what just happened to her and what might happen to her, so there isn’t much tension.

    Also, this bit is really interesting:
    “Her senses flared to life again as she stood there, pondering the wall, and fed her mind glimpses
    irritation, toying with the idea of ending this farce
    of foreign consideration.”

    It seems like poor, really disjointed writing which some people might dislike…. but it’s supposed to make you feel a bit of what she’s feeling because of another persons thoughts suddenly being shoved into your head, breaking the stories flow, which is really cool ^_^

    • Sorry about that, I couldn’t provide more information because Chris doesn’t know more. She was as surprised by it as you were.

      The disjointed writing with intersections in italics is a style I shamelessly stole from Stephen King. Jared of my writer’s group recognized it, and advised me not to overuse it, so I’ll try not to. I really like italics, though. They’re awesome!

  3. Found your story on web fiction guide, decided to check it out when it looked like another dark superhero web serial like Worm.

    Not to tell you how to write your story but if I may make a suggestion, I think you should switch to a first person point of view instead of third person. Since you’er already writing this story from one person’s point of view at a time, it would help the reader get into the main character’s head.

    • Hello there, Anthony, thanks for reading and commenting!

      I can’t use a first person point of view because there are three main characters, and I’m switching after every arc. The first POV change will happen after chapter 1.5 (and the possible bonus interlude on wednesday). A first person perspective that changes every few chapters would be confusing.

      I considered going with just one main character, but then decided against it. I just wouldn’t be able to tell the same kind of story that way, and the scope would be much more narrow.

      • If I may, I think you did the right thing, Olivia.

        Some people believe that third person is not personal enough, but I don’t think that’s the case here. The way I see it, your writing reminds of A Song of Ice and Fire (in style). You switch the POV protagonist from time to time (Martin does it ever chapter, you’ll do it every arc), but the narrative is still personal because you’re using a limited third person, that is, you’re not going from head to head trying to describe everything that happens.

        Also, I admire you for writing what YOU want to write. I’m a firm believer that, if you enjoy what you write, we will enjoy reading it too. 🙂

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